Pens appear to be human history and culture recorders. As a tool of transforming abstract ideas in human brains to actual products, pens are given different names, created in dissimilar shapes, and made by distinctive materials in various regions in the world. Correspondingly, the culture reflected by the pens differ. In the three pens chosen in this essay, the ink brush with golden dragon design from China can demonstrate ancient Chinese people’s understanding about calligraphy and human spiritual world; in contrast, the first fountain pen invented by Petrache Poenaru illustrates the initial development of modern technology in Enlightenment era in Europe, while Swarovski Crystalline Stardust Ballpoint Pen reflects the consumerism in modern society.
The ink brush with golden dragon design was made in Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) during the domination of Wanli Emperor (1563-1629). The brush was made in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) during the reign of Wanli Emperor (1572-1620), which was indicated by the label on the top of the handle. Made in South region of Long River where royal supplies in Forbidden Palace were produced, a various of luxury materials was applied to make the brush, which can indicate the owner’s honorable status. Specifically, the handle was made by sandalwood lacquered with black paint, and the surface portrays a narrative scene of two dragons playing pearls; golden foil, silver and red pigment are used to draw the figures. In ancient China, dragon was seen as a symbol of emperor, and the scene of two dragons playing pearls represented fortune and peace. The hair source is from the back fur of badger, which gives hardness and persistence to the brush. There are four layers of badger hair with brown on the tips, which give the brush a unique decoration.
In Chinese feudal society, Confucianism was the mainstream ideology, which study was a way to improve someone’s social status or intellectual understanding. Correspondingly, four treasures of study (brush, ink, paper, ink stick) were invented to assist the intellectuals. As the head of the four treasures, ink brush was invented in around 300 B.C. Since then, ink brush became the major tool for writing. Under the influence of Confucian, Chinese had a long history of practicing calligraphy. The governors and the intellectuals from varies of dynasties considered calligraphy as an important course to improve their artistry and understanding in human spirit, and some emperors held the same opinions, including Wanli Emperor. He is known for his unique style of handwriting, yet he spent lots of time practicing calligraphy before the age of 10.
Being deeply influenced by Confucianism, Hongwu Emperor, the 1st emperor of Ming Dynasty, established the educational and cultural system based on Confucius’ philosophical method. This directly pushed the development of the tools. However, the style of making tools was preferred to be simple and unadorned at the beginning of the establishment of Ming. In the middle of Ming dynasty, capitalism started to develop, and the decoration of the study tools started to be abundant and embellished. Thus, Wanli’s ink brush is a perfect example of this development.
About two decades after in Europe, the birthplace of capitalism, the first fountain pen was designed and invented by Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru during enlightenment era. Different Chinese culture which the brush was dipped into the ink, in ancient Europe ink was inserted into the tube of a quill for writing. An inconveniency of the quill pen was that inserting ink was time consuming, and the ink would easily fell on paper. For many decades, inventors were focus on solving the problem by changing the structure of quill pen. Starting from Renaissance’s period, Leonardo Da Vinci had had a design of fountain pain in his sketchbook. in 1636, German inventor Danio Schwenter described a pen made from two quills, which one quill was placed inside the other, and it held the ink and was closed with a cork. Ink could leave the reservoir through a small hole which led to the nib. 23 years later, English inventor Samuel Pepys referred to a metal pen “to carry ink” which was made by silver. However, these designs had never been put into actual product until May 25th, 1827, when Poenaru received patent from the French government for his fountain pen which had a barrel made from a large swan quill. He invented the fountain pen while he was in School in Paris because he wanted to continue note taking without stopping to dip for ink.
Peonaru ‘s invention of fountain pen led to the hug progress of printing revolution. Starting from 1830s, inventors stared to explore for method for mass manufacture, and find cheap materials to pen nibs. Cheap and convenient pens were produced in Europe and North America, and gradually evolved to modern mechanical pen people currently use. His fountain pen was also a milestone of western people applying modern technology to daily life.
Another pen designed by western people reflects to consumerism existing in modern society. Swarovski’s Crystalline Stardust Ballpoint Pen not only serves as a normal mechanical pen but is more likely to be a symbol of wealth, glory and splendor. Published in Spring 2018, the pen is made by Swarovski’s crystal and rose gold, which give it an extravagant and prepossessing outlook. However, compare to Wanli’s ink brush which was also made by precious products, the pen can be owned by anyone who can afford to buy it rather than people from upper class only. There are six colors available for customers (especially young women) to choose the one they appreciate, and Swarovski company also sells replaceable refills, which cannot be found in normal stores. While costumers fall in love with the unique brand, Swarovski can earn huge profit when selling the product.
To conclude, people can make reference on the culture and value behind the pen design. The ink brush with golden dragon design can reflect traditional Chinese ideology and the development of capitalism in Ming Dynasty, whereas Peonaru’s fountain pen indicates the evolution of western technology in enlightenment era. Finally, Swarovski’s Crystalline Stardust Ballpoint Pen implies modern consumerism.